By Josh Pakoopolus and Rocco Mosca
Joe Lombardo recently traveled to Venezuela for two weeks as a member of the US Peace Council delegation. Upon arriving back from his trip he reported that the situation portrayed by Western corporate media outlets is nothing like the actual situation on the ground. In light of the recent armed coup attempt of April 30th, and the overall attempt of the United States to delegitimize Venezuela politically and weaken them economically, Joe agreed to participate in an interview regarding his recent trip to Venezuela and shed some light on the differing reports through his experience in the country. I kicked off our interview by asking why American Airlines delayed his scheduled return flight.
“They said this was due to chaos in Venezuela. This caused us, Venezuelan and other travelers to scramble to get other flights. Our trip was only scheduled for 1 week, but I was the last out and was not able to get a flight for almost a week. This is one of the many ways that the US tries to make life hard for Venezuelan people in the hope that they will turn against their government. We did not see any chaos. People seemed to handle these everyday problems, caused by the US and the sanctions, in their stride and seemed to place the blame where it belonged, on the US.”
Joe is referring to the sanctions that have cost Venezuela over 40,000 lives in 2017-2018 alone. This mass murder was committed with the weapons of pen, paper, and computer screens as the first-world imperialist nations (and supremely, the United States) have been limiting imports of much needed food and medicine into the country, and offering so-called “humanitarian aid”. This while the United States has a track record of sneaking weapons and personnel into various countries under the guise of “aid”. Joe’s telling of a Venezuelan people who have not been beguiled and manipulated by these US attempts to delegitimize and undermine the government of Venezuela are heartening, especially in the context of a constant lens distortion meant to justify US imperialist intervention and the further loss of life.
We moved on in our discussion to basic information regarding his overall trip into the country, my next question regarding how long he was in Venezuela, what he did, and who he met during the trip:
“I was in Venezuela for about 2 weeks. We had very full days and nights. We were able to meet with the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro and some other government officials including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the head of their Urban Agriculture Ministry, the former Health Minister, the head of their Election Commission (which is an elected position and their Elections Commission is an independent branch of government) and a few others. We also visited a few communities and met with people who are part of the Community Councils, the Communes and other organizations of what they call People’s Power. We went to a very large pro-Government rally and tried to go to two opposition rallies but neither of them really materialized. We also took the free subways, walked around the streets, went to stores, urban gardens, and saw people going about their everyday lives. We had press conferences and were on a popular political TV show. We got a lot of media coverage.”
The Election Commission that Joe refers to is an important piece of the puzzle to quickly explain. It functions as an independent branch of the government in order to ensure the fairest, most technologically up to date, and accurate election process. Every election other than the most recent in 2018 has been observed and found not only to be transparent and conducted fairly, but to be one of the best electoral systems on the planet. The Venezuelan government invited observers from the UN to confirm that the 2018 was also conducted exceptionally, but the UN and other agencies refused in light of pressure from the opposition — who did not want the UN or any other electoral observers present. Even so, 300 international representatives from various different organizations did come out to observe the May 2018 election process, and they corroborated that the election process involved mass popular participation and that it was both fair and balance, with little irregularities observed, especially in relation to so-called “more democratic” countries that often regularly have more electoral process problems than Venezuela.
I asked Joe to continue talking about the protests he had attended on both sides, as I had heard him discuss on New Jersey Revolutionary Radio. I asked him what the general mood was of the attendees of both sides:
“Most of us on the trip went to a pro-Chavista rally. These seem to happen in a big way pretty much every Saturday. In little ways, they happen all the time. The rally we went to was huge. People filled a large avenue as far as the eye could see, forward or backward. There is clearly huge support for the government. I believe that this support has been growing since the US and Guaido attempted their coup and Guaido called for the US to invade. We tried to go to two opposition rallies in Caracas. The first did not happen. We learned later from the TV that Guaido did hold a rally in a nearby city, but the pictures seemed to show a small crowd. On the last day that I was in Venezuela, we heard that there would be another opposition rally in Caracas. I went with another person on the delegation to where it was supposed to start. There were a lot of police but no demonstrators. After awhile we saw the news media pack up their gear and leave so we went down to the National Assembly Building, which was where they had intended to march to. There we saw about 30 well dressed opposition supporters. So, neither of the opposition actions materialized while we were there. However, we did have the opportunity to talk with some opposition supporters who we met during our visit.”
While the US media tries to contort the narrative and depict the opposition protests as the only mass movements going on in Venezuela, the huge rallies in support of the government have not only been substantial and sustained, but are largely composed of the poor and marginalized who have been lifted up by the social programs of the Bolivarian project and were instrumental in thwarting the latest armed coup attempt of April 30th, 2019—where thousands of Chavistas gathered around Miraflores Palace as a bulwark of defense against the US-backed anti-government forces.
We continued with some broader questions, following this topic of European and US news depictions: What is the daily situation in Venezuela? Western corporate media portrays Venezuela as a country on the verge of collapse, did you find this to be the case?
“The sanctions have a real effect. Medicines are sanctioned and difficult to get as well as medical equipment. Sanctions are really a war crime. Sanctions have also caused the freezing of hundreds of billions of dollars of Venezuelan assets in foreign banks and has made trade with countries that support the sanctions almost impossible. Sanctions have made it difficult for Venezuela to transport and sell their oil. All of this has led to high rates of inflation. When we were there, some of the inflation seemed to be getting under control. People use ATMs a lot and take out only the money they will immediately spend because the money in their pocket could lose value due to inflation. Many people are unable to buy some of the things they want, but the government makes sure that they have the necessities. Basic food is distributed to millions of people. The subways are free. Free cable cars have been constructed which service the people who live in the hills around Caracas and other cities. These are traditionally the poorer people who have built shanty-towns around the periphery of the cities where they try to find jobs. The government has a program to move all of these people into good housing and has built 2.5 million public housing units for them since 2016. The government expects this number to reach 3 million by the end of 2019. Gas for people’s cars is free. Contrary to US propaganda, generally the people look well dressed and well fed. It is the poor and Black people that have most benefited from these programs and therefore it is among this group that the Maduro government and the Bolivarian Revolution have the most support.
When we arrived, the country was experiencing a blackout. The electricity was off. Some of this was due to sabotage from within the country, but the main problem—according to what the news media said and what president Maduro said—was due to viruses that were in the software that runs the system. Maduro told us the viruses came from Houston and Chicago. The US says it was due to inefficiency and lack of maintenance of the system. However, even if that was true, sanctions do not allow them to purchase spare parts for the system, which was sold to them from the US and Germany.
In the US, during such blackouts there would likely be looting. But there was none that took place in Venezuela. People told us that this is because of education that people have in cooperative relationships as opposed to a “get what you can for yourself mentality.” This is really the ideological struggle between socialism and capitalism. We saw this during the blackout. Since many of the new housing units that were created are in high-rise apartment buildings, elevators did not work and neither did the water pumps. People in the neighborhoods helped each other out. They checked on the elderly and disabled and carried water to them. On one block they came out into the streets and seemed to make the blackout into a party. Rather than blaming the blackouts on the government, the people seemed to understand that it was the US. I could not help thinking that when hit by a hurricane, parts of Puerto Rico lost power for 11 months and no one even talked about inefficiency of capitalism.
Basically, despite the economic war that the US is waging against the people of Venezuela to try and make the system fail, people seemed to take it in stride, and we saw no chaos at all. What the US media reports about Venezuela—that there is chaos, starvation, repression, and hatred of the government—seems to have nothing to do with the reality that we saw.”
Finally, I asked Joe about him actually getting to meet President Maduro: Was he pleased to meet people from the United States who oppose intervention? What did he and President Maduro discuss?
“We met with president Maduro for about 90 minutes. There were no news media present during the meeting, but his wife and twenty-something year old son were present as well as a few other officials from his government. After the meeting we emerged to a big group of media and we held a press conference. Maduro spoke and told us about what they were finding out about the blackout and some other things that were going on in the country. He showed us two tweets that were sent to him. One was from Marco Rubio. It was a picture of Gaddafi dead in the street. He took this as a threat to his life. The second one was from Abrams. It was basically a message that told him to give up power and he could live and, in fact, try again for power in a few years. He rejected these. He understands that his life is in danger but will not give up the progressive agenda started by Chavez. Maduro said that the US and the Bolivarian movement have been in conflict ever since the Monroe Doctrine. He told us how with every US attack against his country the people and their government are figuring out how to work around it and he was confident that they will win and defeat US imperialism.
Maduro told us how important he believes the US anti-war movement is. He is very aware of how the people of the US turned against the War in Vietnam and played an important role in staying the hand of US imperialism during the Vietnam War, and he believes we can do it again. He gave support to the March 30 national demonstration in Washington, DC that many of us were building and when he heard that the school bus drivers’ union from Boston was organizing a bus to come to the demonstration, he said he wanted to drive the bus. As you may know, Maduro was a bus driver before Chavez came to power, and before he was elected to the National Assembly.”
The people of the United States should be thinking hard about what to do next. Looking at the history of US intervention across the world and the needless bloodshed that it has caused. Keeping in mind US imperialism in Latin America in particular, from the murderous oppression of puppets like Pinochet, support for dictators and violent interventions in Guatamala, Honduras, and El Salvador, propping up the vicious brutality of Nicaraguan dictator Samoza and terrorist Contras who murdered thousands, and many more fascist-backing anti-communist hysterics, to US colonial neglect of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria resulting in an estimated excess of 2,975 deaths. In light of these US supported atrocities, it is utterly indefensible to stand against the Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian revolution. Advocating for the fall of the Maduro government—even without specifically supporting the opposition—gives the green light to US imperialist intervention by propping up the rhetoric of those groups that support this aggression. We should all heed the call that Joe was relayed by President Maduro: that the people of the United States were instrumental in “staying the hand of US imperialism during the Vietnam War” and that we can do it again. Our focus as empathetic people advocating for justice needs to be on replicating this massive resistance today, for the Venezuelan people and for the world.